To Switch or Not To Switch? Part 4: Play the Game, Not the System

This is Part 4 in a series called “To Switch or Not To Switch” about whether or not my gaming group should switch to Dungeons and Dragons, 5th Edition, or stay with Pathfinder.


Your dungeon master describes the scene. You imagine the environment and characters around you and decide how your character would react or choose to proceed. You say what your character does and your DM asks you to make any checks required. You roll the dice. The DM narrates what happens.

This is d20 roleplay at its heart. The goal of different systems and rules sets isn’t to change that format at all. It’s a matter of taste in how the rules interpret different choices.

Pathfinder accomplishes this by providing copious mechanics and checks that save the DM from having to figure out a way of determining the result of any choice. Just obey the rules already in place, connect the dots, and narrate the result. Player doesn’t like it? It’s just following the rules, too bad.

Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition (5e) accomplishes this by streamlining the rules so much that DMs can use fewer different types of checks. They use their gut to figure out what seems reasonable, and then have freedom to move the story along. Your group needs to trust the DM a lot more, but they’re in a better position to keep narrative and tension at the fore even if the player makes a complicated or unexpected choice.

The 5e character sheet. Just a tiny bit more streamlined than the Pathfinder one (below.)
The 5e character sheet. Just a tiny bit more streamlined than the Pathfinder one (below.)

With our gaming group, I sometimes think the rules get in the way of the game. A player can really enjoy making the most of a rule to decide how to behave – but as a new DM it can mean we stall out in the middle of a tense battle or a unique puzzle may lose its interest. None of us knows the rules so well that we can think story and let the rules flow.

5e promises to fix that problem. On the web it seems like that’s the reason most people switch to it. But will the switch itself throw off our group? “That’s not how it worked in Pathfinder…” stalls the story just as much as any standard rules question. This almost feels like a economics question – which is more disrupting: the opportunity cost or the switching cost?

Portion of the Pathfinder character sheet. More complicated - but more detailed.
Portion of the Pathfinder character sheet. More complicated – but more detailed.

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